First published Feb 18, 2012 at CounterCurrents.org republished by author.
18 February, 2012 Countercurrents.org
Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, once asked General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
Albright’s statement nicely captures the U.S. approach to dealing with troublesome leaders. By troublesome, I mean those who have the temerity to oppose U.S. positions and who, at the same time, are far too weak to pose a real military threat to the U.S. Examples of nations that had such troublesome leaders include Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The leaders of Syria and Iran are also currently in the crosshairs.
Note the contrast between Albright’s words and those of President Eisenhower in his “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953. Eisenhower addressed the idea of regime change when he said: “Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.” He added: “Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.” Unfortunately the U.S., even under Eisenhower, did not base its actions on these words.
A pattern also emerges from examining the above one-sided conflicts that led to regime changes. The U.S. clearly feels no need for real diplomacy in these cases. For example, the U.S. often even refuses to talk with the other side. Instead, what passes for U.S. negotiation is the making of demands that the other side cannot accept. When the other side fails to accept all the U.S. demands, it faces U.S. action.
In general, the actions begin with a campaign by a compliant media here to frighten the U.S. population into supporting steps against the crazy leader who is a threat to his own people or to the U.S., covert acts including assassinations, creating and/or building up opposition leaders, threats of an attack against the enemy, the use of economic sanctions, and a military attack if the other steps haven’t worked. Sometime the U.S. attacks without going through most of the other steps. In the case of Iraq, even acceptance of U.S. demands was not enough to prevent the illegal and unwarranted U.S.-led attack.
The U.S. sometimes seeks to enlist the UN to provide a legal cover for its actions. For example, the U.S. often seeks the UN’s support for the sanctions. However, if the UN doesn’t accept the U.S. position, the U.S. and/or some of its allies apply the sanctions anyway. The U.S. also often attempts to gain the UN Security Council’s support for a military attack. However, if the UN doesn’t go along with an attack, the U.S. then turns to NATO or forms an ad hoc coalition of nations willing to join in military action.
Unsurprisingly, the compliant corporate-dominated U.S. media seldom, if ever, address the morality or legality of this approach that usually leads to a U.S. military attack on a far weaker nation. For example, the threat or use of force, except in self-defense against an armed attack or, unless taken by the UN Security Council, is prohibited under the UN Charter.
Sanctions have been in vogue for the last twenty years or so. However, more and more people today realize that harsh economic sanctions are, in effect, collective punishment of innocent populations. The devastation sanctions cause, particularly those wreaked on Haitians and Iraqis, has led to more frequent discussions about their appropriateness and legality. Some in-depth articles dealing with the legality of sanctions include:
- Economic Sanctions, Just War Doctrine, and the “Fearful Spectacle of the Civilian Dead” by Joy Gordon;
- Adverse Consequences of UN Sanctions by Mark Thorton;
- The Legality of US Sanctions by Benjamin H. Flowe, Jr., and Ray Gold;
- Debating the Law of Sanctions by Mary Ellen O’Connell; and
- Legal Boundaries to UN Sanctions by Elias Davidsson.
The legality and morality of the U.S. approach should be discussed, especially given the U.S. campaigns regarding Syria and Iran. However, in the U.S. today, it seems to be outside the realm of polite discussion to point out that the threats to attack Iran by the U.S. and Israel are violations of the UN Charter. Few in the corporate-dominated U.S. media also challenge the idea of preemptive self-defense.
President Eisenhower also had some strong opinions on preventive war. He said: “I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing. …It seems to me that when, by definition, a term is just ridiculous in itself, there is no use in going any further.” Mary Ellen O’Connell’s article, The Myth of Preemptive Self-Defense, goes into much more detail about this issue.
When the US says that no options are off the table, it raises the awful possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state that has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty clearly is an extreme violation of the UN Charter.
Instead of the U.S. approach that relies heavily on the threat of the use of its military, real negotiations without preconditions are the key to resolving conflicts, including those with Syria and Iran.
Ron Forthofer Ph.D. is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado email@example.com